SfP 2021 Home Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4

Accepted abstracts for Software for the Past (SfP) 2021 at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee

Session 1: Keynote

How technology can upend the archives, revolutionize their use, and frighten the wits out of the archivists

Yaacov Lozowick, Bar Ilan University

The fundamental functions of archives have not dramatically changed since their invention in the 19th century. Yet the arrival of affordable large-scale technological capabilities over recent decades offers the potential to expand the societal footprint and significance of the archives, if only the archivists would agree.

Dr. Yaacov Lozowick directed Israel’s State Archives between 2011-18. He teaches at Bar Ilan University and runs a research project at NYU.


Session 2: Picturing the Past

Epidat - names, dates, places

Thomas Kollatz, Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz

What is Epidat?

Epidat, short for epigraphic database, is a research platform for Jewish funerary epigraphy, which has been continuously developed since 2002 and has been filled with numerous research data since then. Currently, Epidat contains 43,790 headstones from 233 historical Jewish cemeteries, spanning a period of 900 years (1040-1951) and covering six European countries (see about us).

Input of Data

The database offers web-based input forms for recording inscriptions, their annotation and formal description. Even though the forms and the description of their fields and functions are currently only available in German, they allow researchers to enter data in a simple and efficient way. Like this, not only the three cemeteries of the medieval Schum communities (Speyer, Worms, Mainz) were recorded by a team of epigraphists, cultural heritage organizations and art historians, but also the ReMo cemetery in Krakow (1552-1850), and most recently the new cemetery in Dresden (1866-today).

Open Data, Open Access

The research data are made available under a Creative Commons BY license, which explicitly permits subsequent use by third parties. In addition, the research data are provided via open interfaces in machine-readable formats (e.g. EpiDoc: Epigraphic Documents in TEI XML). In the past, this has allowed, for example, the inclusion of epigraphic data in the Places of Jewish History web app; the use of epidat data sets for the workshop Methods and Tools for visualizing Digital Humanities data sets; or the extraction and visualization of family relations from the Hamburg Altona gravestone corpus.

Based on the above-mentioned epigraphic format EpiDoc, recently the merging of various epigraphic repositories from the field of Jewish studies in the so-called Peace Portal (Portal of Epigraphy, Archaeology, Conservation and Education on Jewish Funerary Culture) took place.

Dates, Places, Names, and Gender

Headstones are a valuable source for Jewish History, Religion, and Culture. As a rule, each object is dated, because through all centuries the inscriptions always mention the date of death. In addition, the tombstone, which is preserved in a certain cemetery, through it is usually known the last place of residence of the deceased. Finally, the name of the deceased, the patronym and, in the case of married women, often also the name of the husband is given, unlike other historical sources there is also unambiguity about the sex of the deceased. This characteristic of epigraphic data as well as their quantity allows the application of digital methods and procedures that facilitate the understanding of and access to the data.

Research Tools

Epidat offers not only the means to enter and present data, but also research tools for analyzing and searching the ever-growing body of research data.

A tool that can be used under different aspects is the DARIAH-DE Geo-Browser for the visualization of spatio-temporal relations provided by DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities).

For example, all dated personal data mentioned on epitaphs are visualized in the Geo- Browser. This allows genealogical queries, such as "Show me all mentions of the family name Rothschild" and displays the results on a map linked to a timeline, while providing information about the spatial and temporal distribution of the search query. Onomastic research questions can also be answered here, such as the question of the rise and decline of given names through time and space. The geo-browser vividly shows how the name 'Kalonymos', popular in the Middle Ages, declined in the early modern period against the short form 'Kalman' and then experienced a revival in the 19th and 20th centuries. Such questions can be answered with this tool on a broad data basis across corpuses (i.e. not on a cemetery, but optionally on the entire holdings).

The geo-browser is also used to display the spatio-temporal distribution of symbols on gravestones; here, for example, the assignment of symbols to specific names can be examined. Furthermore, the inventory of books mentioned on headstones is presented in the Geo-Browser.

Numerous other access options are provided to the users (laymen and professional scholars): Full text search, search for a specific date (according to Julian, Gregorian, or Hebrew calendar), image indexes, word lists as CSV sorted alphabetically, by frequency, by gender (i.e. mentioned on a man's or woman's tombstone), among others.

The cemetery as a "cultural space" was the focus of a three-year interdisciplinary third-party funded project entitled Relationen im Raum (spatial relations). Here, the data collected on the individual headstone with regard to form and inscription, its date, and gender of the deceased, etc. were projected onto dynamic site maps. In this way, patterns of burial became visible, such as chronological burial, burial in family clusters, by function (rabbi), marital status (unmarried, child), manner of death (suicide, death in childbirth), etc.


Databases, research repositories, Open Data and Open Access are important prerequisites for the continuous development of digital modes of presentation and digital tools. The providing of data, the linking between repositories as well as the use of differentiated tools enables a deeper understanding of the cultural heritage.


Kollatz, Thomas. 2018. „EPIDAT. Research Platform for Jewish Epigraphy“. In Crossing Experiences in Digital Epigraphy. From Practice to Discipline. Digital Epigraphy, 231–39. Warsaw, Poland: De Gruyter open. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110607208.

———. 2020. „Kanne, Rose, Schuh …: Textbildrelationen in jüdischer Grabsteinepigraphik am Beispiel der Symbole“. In Bilddaten in den Digitalen Geisteswissenschaften, 217– 29. Episteme in Bewegung. Beiträge zu einer transdisziplinären Wissensgeschichte 16. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. https://doi.org/10.13173/9783447114608.217.

Kollatz, Thomas, und Max Grüntgens. 2018. „Korpusbasiertes Arbeiten und epigraphische Datenbanken. Möglichkeiten und Herausforderungen am Beispiel von EPIDAT und DIO“. Osnabrücker Beiträge zur Sprachtheorie 92: 157–74.

Thomas Kollatz photoSince 2017 Thomas Kollatz is a member of the team of the Digital Academy, which is the research department for Digital Humanities at the Academy of Sciences and Literature | Mainz. Currently he works mainly in the Buber Correspondences Project (long-term project, 2021-2045). Since 2002 he is developing epidat at the Salomon-Ludwig-Steinheim institute for German-Jewish History in Essen, since 2019 in the scope of a scientific cooperation between Steinheim-Institute and Academy.


Using AI to Restore Historical Photos and Illuminate the Past

Daniel Horowitz, MyHeritage

Over the past several years, the family history website MyHeritage has become the world’s leading platform for working with historical photos thanks to its remarkable photo improvement features. In just a few clicks, anyone can upload an old family photo to MyHeritage and watch it come to life. Scratches and creases can be repaired, black and white images can be colorized, faded colors can be restored, blurry subjects can be brought into sharp focus, and faces can even be animated. These tools were developed using cutting-edge deep learning AI technology to help users see their ancestors in a whole new way.

While these tools are certainly fun and help foster an emotional connection to the past, their value is far greater than the sentimental aspect. Using the MyHeritage photo tools can also shed new light on the past — sometimes even helping family historians achieve new insights about their ancestors. Details that were obscured by darkened, faded colors or damage may emerge as the result of colorization or repair. When photos are enhanced, faces that may have been hard to identify come into sharp focus. These benefits have practical applications for genealogists and historians.

In this lecture, Daniel Horowitz, Genealogy Expert at MyHeritage, will introduce MyHeritage’s groundbreaking photo tools and demonstrate their use. He’ll introduce the advanced technology behind the features and show you how they can be used to enhance our understanding of the past. He’ll also share some stories of users who had a breakthrough in their family history research thanks to the use of the MyHeritage photo tools, and provide some stunning examples of what these powerful tools are capable of.

Daniel Horowitz photoDedicated to Genealogy since 1986, Daniel was the teacher and the study guide editor of the family history project "Searching for My Roots" in Venezuela for 15 years. He was a board member of The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) for 10 years, now is involved in several crowdsource digitization and transcription projects, and holds a board-level position at The Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). Since 2006 Daniel has been working at MyHeritage liaising with genealogy societies, bloggers, and media, as well as lecturing, and attending conferences around the world.


Digitally Saving Rosh Pinna's Historic and Crumbling Cemetery

Efrat Kantor and Michael J. May, Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee


Session 3: Museums and Places

A Spatial Analysis of Historical Agricultural Land-Use Changes in the Judean Region

Gad Schaffer, Tel Hai Academic College

Vines and olives are two important and widespread traditional agricultural crops in the Middle East. The goal of the research was to demonstrate the importance of using cartographical sources and GIS tools and methods to obtain a more accurate and complete view of the past. The aims of this research were aims were to analyze the different spatial physical factors that could explain the spatial distribution of traditional agricultural landscapes and to identify the changes which took place between the three reconstructed timestamps. This was done first by reconstruction of former agricultural land-use in three periods, 1873–1874, 1917, and 1943–1945. The sources used were a combination of historical maps and GIS layers. The research employed different cartographic sources and the implemented analyses were conducted using GIS tools such as |slope, elevation, and sun direction measurements. The results show that, in the past, the distribution of vines and olive groves greatly depended on several physical geographic factors (climate, slopes, direction). Nonetheless, human factors such as political instability, cultural and religious beliefs contributed as well. Lastly, the research demonstrated that obtaining the most complete view of the past can be achieved by a combination of sources together with the use of GIS tools and methods.

Gad Schaffer photoDr. Gad Schaffer is a lecturer at the departments of Multidisciplinary Studies (BA program) and the Galilee Studies (MA program) at Tel-Hai Academic College (Israel). Dr. Schaffer is also the academic head of the Historical Cartography Research Institute at Tel-Hai Academic College which promotes research using historical maps and aerials from the 19th century onward using new technologies of mapping. Dr. Schaffer is a historical geographer, and his expertise is in landscape changes in the Land of Israel from the 19th century to the present, based on historical maps, aerial and satellite imagery, and the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Dr. Schaffer research interests are landscapes, land use/land cover changes, cultural landscapes, urban and agricultural landscapes, cartography and GIS.


Potential, ideas and challenges of introducing technology to a museum: A case study at the Upper Galilee Museum of Prehistory

Tsvi Kuflik, University of Haifa
Danny Rosenberg, University of Haifa
Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai Academic College
Liran Segal, University of Haifa
Eitan Ivchenko, University of Haifa
Dor Berko, University of Haifa
Yuval Maron, Tel Hai Academic College

The Upper Galilee Museum of Prehistory (UGMP) in Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch is housed in a unique cave-like structure contains two main sections: A prehistoric wing and an ethnographic wing. The prehistoric wing is dedicated to displaying artefacts from prehistoric sites in the Hula Valley and the ethnographic exhibition displays a collection of tools, garments and goods, made by present day societies and tribes from around the world using traditional techniques.

The museum, designed in the 1980's, uses "classical" exhibitions format based upon glass vitrines and open exhibitions and the visitor is free to walk around and explore the display. So far, there is no use of technology to make the finds and data more accessible to the non-professional visitor. The immediate and obvious challenge presented by the UGMP is information delivery – how to deliver the “right amount of relevant” information to visitors about exhibits and finds and to create a system that has depth – where each visitor can choose the level of interest and details that suit her. Additional challenge is how to engage young visitors.

State of the art mobile technology provides the means for addressing the above-mentioned challenges. A technological project is on its way, aimed at providing the museum staff with an information system that will enable them to present full information about individual artefacts in different levels of details and from different perspectives. This system will be the basic infrastructure that will enable to enhance the museum visit experience in several ways.

At the starting point, visitors will be able to access the information using QR-codes placed next to the glass boxes. Our goal is to base upon personal cellular phones of the visitors as a platform for information delivery. A more advanced and engaging option will allow the visitors to follow "treasure hunt" games. A technological platform will be developed allowing the museum staff to create a variety of thematic games to be followed by young visitors. A third way for accessing information will be by applying “tangible user interfaces” approach – visitors will be able to manipulate instrumented replicas of artefacts (replicating the currently unteachable archaeological artifacts) and access the information about the actual object. This method will allow to shift the museum display from object behind the glass into "hands on" exhibit creating a new level of visit experience. Next to the digital "information kiosks" the visitor will find hand-on touchable objects such as different rock types (e.g., basalt limestone and flint). The goal is to combine the non-archaeological object with the technological ability of to touch the archaeological object into a holistic experience for the visitor.

While all the above seems highly attractive, there are a few challenges that we need to overcome – limited budget and technological resources at the UGMP, the limited technological and technical knowledge of the museum staff and the need for long lasting and maintainable system. Hence, the system should be simple to operate and maintain. In order to lower costs and in the face of fast aging of hardware the solution should be based on the visitors’ personal mobile devices. Additional major challenge is to keep the visitor’s focus of attention on the objects and not on the technology. Hence the technology should be engaging, but simple and allow different levels of depth, allowing each visitor to choose the level of details he is interested in. The use of personal technology puts the user in a “bubble”. The challenge here is to enable not only an individual experience but also a group experience, as people, and in particular young visitors, many times come to museums in small groups – families and friends and need a group experience.

Tsvi Kuflik photoTsvi Kuflik is a professor of information systems at the university of Haifa. His main research area is intelligent user interfaces and one of the main areas where he experiments is cultural heritage where he explores the potential of novel ICT to enhance the visit experience.

Danny Rosenberg photoProfessor Danny Rosenberg is an archaeologist specializing in the archaeology of food and food related technologies. He is the head of the Laboratory for Ground Stone Tools Research, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa and the Chair of the Association for Ground Stone Tools Research. Since 2013 he co-direct the research project at Tel Tsaf, focusing on the establishment of the Mediterranean diet in the Near East during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition.

Gonen Sharon photoGonen Sharon is a professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the Tel Hai College. His research focus for over 20 years has been the prehistoric sites on the banks of the Upper Jordan River. Professor Sharon is the head of the Prehistory laboratory and the head of the Master Program in Galilee Studies at the Tel Hai College. He is also the curator of the Hula Valley Prehistory Museum in Kibbutz Maʿayan Baruch.

Liran Segal photoLiran Segal, 33, bachelor's degree, originally from Ramat Gan. An undergraduate student in information systems in the software development track at the University of Haifa, works at BMC Software as an automation developer. In his free time he likes to play the guitar and watch TV.

Eitan Ivchenko photoEitan Ivchenko, 27, lives in the city of Haifa. An undergraduate student in information systems at the University of Haifa. Currently in a student position at Intel. Loves to create electronic music in my spare time.

Dor Berko photoDor Berko, 26, lives in the city of Haifa. An information systems An undergraduate student in the development track in the final year of his degree, works at Raphael as a Python developer and supports Matlab users.

Yuval Maron photoYuval Maron, 24, lives in the city of Nesher. An undergraduate student in information systems with a focus on software development and at the same time a student job at PayPal. A fan of Hapoel Haifa who does not miss a single game.


The National Knowledge Center on the History and Heritage of Jerusalem and its Environs

Avraham Faust, Bar Ilan University
Roni Shweka, Bar Ilan University

The National Knowledge Center on the History and Heritage of Jerusalem and its Environs was founded in Bar-Ilan University by a Research Grant from Ministry of Science and Technology. The Center is creating an online bilingual (English and Hebrew) integrative platform (under construction), aiming to allow scholars and interested non-academics to review a vast amount of archaeological and historical data from the land of Israel, explore it and dissect in various ways, and then analyze the data using sophisticated GIS tools, some of which were developed specifically for the platform.

In the first part of the paper we will present the platform with some of its components and describe the database and the data it incorporates. Among the components are the topographic maps that were developed specially for the project, the user interface, the search capabilities and some GIS functions that we developed for the project. The data includes records from various sources. The primary ones are archeological in nature and contain data about archeological sites, their exact location, archeological or historical periods the site belong to, type of findings, etc. The database, however, incorporates also data from historical and literary sources as well, and we are in the progress of processing some corpuses of a kind. The presentation will be concluded with discussion about the potential of the platform, and how it can advance research on a number of levels. In addition, we will also comment on its potential use for non-academics, and our future plans for expanding the platform.


Session 4: Manuscripts and Professionals

Hebrew Manuscripts as a Source for Knowledge

Gila Prebor, Bar Ilan University

Thousands of Hebrew manuscripts have survived until the present day. The catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts in the National Library in Israel (NLI) represents the largest and most important surviving collection of Hebrew manuscript metadata. Its seventy to eighty thousand volumes of manuscripts range from ancient manuscripts dating to even before the 10th century to modern manuscripts from the twentieth century. This collection has importance as both a national and a Jewish treasure, offering incomparable information about the intellectual, religious, and daily lives of Jews throughout the ages.

Taking the vast amount of information gathered in the metadata records and applying them in a LOD environment on a much broader scale is the aim of the research. This approach of data combination through the LOD framework can more effectively express the kind of complex relationships which are found in metadata of the Hebrew manuscripts’ catalogue, enrich the data semantically by data aggregation and reasoning, and allow for sophisticated and unanticipated discovery pathways and insights, than can relational databases and marked-up documents.

Once the Hebrew Manuscript data in the NLI catalogue is uploaded to LOD platform, it can immediately be queried and explored using the SPARQL Query Service Questions that cannot currently be directly answered can be asked, starting with simple queries, such as the language of texts in the NLI collection and visualization of all censored manuscripts according to the date of their copying, and ranging to more complex questions, such as how many manuscripts were censored by the censor Domenico Gerosolimitano and what were the topics of these manuscripts, and which 15th-century vocalized manuscripts of liturgical texts survived.

Senior lecturer in the Department of Information Science, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel. Co-editor of the journal: Alei Sefer: Studies in Bibliography and in the History of the Printed and the Digital Hebrew Book.


Towards Automatic Cataloguing of Hebrew Manuscripts

Hadar Miller, University of Haifa
Yoav Philips, University of Haifa
Tsvi Kuflik, University of Haifa
Moshe Lavee, University of Haifa
Nachum Dershowitz, Tel Aviv University
Samuel Londner, Tel Aviv University

Hebrew manuscripts contain the treasures of Jewish culture from biblical times to the present day. More than 1.2 million images representing almost 90,000 different manuscripts, and above 130,000 different identified works, as well as numerous unidentified texts are currently available through National Library Ktiv website. Many manuscripts contain content that has not yet been published, studied, and sometimes not even cataloged at all, or are cataloged very generally, leaving large space for the exploration of unknown texts and textual witnesses.

The proposed lecture will describe another step in a long process aimed at full textual accessibility of Hebrew manuscripts. Following the successful digitization of manuscripts (i.e., Ktiv, the Friedberg Project), and the development of tools aimed at crowdsourced, or AI based transcription (i.e., Scribes of the Cairo Genizah, Tikun Sofrim, eScriptorium) we turn to implementation of text reuse detection tools on imperfect machine/crowdsourced texts for the sake of automatic manuscript cataloging and/or feedback for improving machine readings and models.

Such automatic cataloging allows for accurate mapping of the manuscripts down to the line level, identifying the compositions and specific paragraphs included in the manuscript. In the case of unfamiliar texts, it is expected to indicate related texts, thereby classifying the genre and realm of the manuscript.

We will present the current state in the development of a text reuse detection framework, aimed at allocating text reuse of large texts units, from a few sentences long to several passages or even an entire manuscript. (Other features of the framework, such as identifying short text, as in the case of biblical citations will not be discussed at length.) We defined the manuscript line, 5-15 words long, as a granular unit for text reuse to be detected. On the one hand, it is big enough to quickly detect suspected sources. On the other hand, it is short enough to identify multiple sources that might be integrated into the same manuscript.

We designed a three-phase framework: The first phase locates all possible suspect that share a single word or more with the tested manuscript row while allowing minor orthographic alterations between the texts. We utilize a positional inverted index for a quick search for all suspects and use edit distance to grade the suspects and choose the most probable candidates; the second phase aligns the score set for the tuple (source, row) compared to the sources located for neighboring rows. The underlying idea is that extended text reuse increases the probability of consecutive rows to share the same source; The third phase generates a full synopsis of the three most probable suspects and the manuscript line. The synopsis algorithm measures the probability of two words to be aligned even if they are not identical, aimed at assessing whether the difference reflects a genuine variant of the text or a mistake in the automated reading of the manuscript.

The process we are developing is expected to provide detailed catalogs of manuscripts, to reveal unknown witnesses of texts, and to optimize the processes of automated transcription of Hebrew manuscripts.

Hadar Miller photoHadar Miller, a Ph.D. student at the University of Haifa. His research focuses on automatic text reuse detection tailored to the Aggadic literature. Hadar served for several years as the Chief Information Officer at The National Library of Israel.

Tsvi Kuflik photoTsvi Kuflik is a professor of information systems at the university of Haifa. His main research area is intelligent user interfaces and one of the main areas where he experiments is cultural heritage where he explores the potential of novel ICT to enhance the visit experience.

Moshe Lavee photoDr Moshe Lavee, eLijah-Lab for DH in Jewish Studies, The University of Haifa, Director; BSc in DH, co-director.


Digitizing the History of the Professionals – A Personal Reflection

Eyal Katvan, Peres Academic Center

In recent years, digitization of archival records allows a new research tool for historians and other researchers, including legal and medical historians and historians of the professions. For example, it enables the use of specific materials (such as newspaper article, archival resources etc.) in order to write more accurate biographical notes. It also enables the digitization of these biographical notes. At the core of this talk is the presentation of a new project - the Center for the Study of the History of the Legal and Medical Professions in pre-state Israel- a digitization project, which aims to make the information about the first professionals (in law and in medicine) in pre state Israel (until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948) accessible.

In this talk I wish to present a personal view and reflections of this process – presenting this new digitization project – and presenting questions and insights that have developed during work. These questions directly concern historians in general, legal historians in particular, and the legal profession’s researchers today, as well as those involved in digital humanities. So too the insights I will present appeal to these audiences. I will also raise some subsidiary questions regarding the importance of the history of the professions and professionals and discussing some ethical issues in this regard.

Prof. Eyal Katvan is a Jurist, Ethicist, Bioethicist and Legal and Medical Historian. He is an Associate Professor at Peres Academic Center and the head of the Institute for the study of the professions. Prof. Katvan wrote two Doctoral dissertations. The research he conducts is multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary, combining the fields of Law, Medicine, Women/Gender, Ethics and History, focusing on the legal and medical professions. Many of his studies have been published in the leading peer-reviewed journals. He won several prizes, scholarships and grants, including from the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research (NIHP). He served as a visiting scholar in various universities in Europe and the US